EducationSocial Issues

Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom

Being a part of the co-op program at your university can be a huge asset to your future. Not all universities offer co-op so make sure to check with your school. Co-op is a wonderful experience for students, teaching everything from finances to connections to experience. There are many ways you can benefit from this program. That being said, there are several aspects that you may want to consider to determine whether or not co-op is the right path for you. Co-op may not be for everyone so I hope this article can be of some guidance to you.

The Pros

The advantages of co-op can be simplified into three things: money, networking and experience.

One of the greatest things about co-op is that during a work-term (a period of time, typically 4 months, when you take time off of school to work a full-time job), you get paid. Students will typically use this money to help pay for tuition but, really, you can spend it however you like. This money could be used towards that vacation you’ve been dying to go on, or saved up for that new car you’ve been eyeing.

Getting compensated is one great benefit of doing co-op, but gaining friends, mentors and connections is even better. You’ll probably groan or sigh or just plain roll your eyes but I can’t stress enough how important networking is. Through networking, you get to meet a lot of people—they may be the ones to get you your dream job or even become your new best friend. Either way, knowing a lot of people can have its own perks in the future. You never know when you might need some help.

Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom

Experience is crucial, especially in the world of work. Experience is the difference between getting hired and not getting a job. To get a job, you need experience, but to get experience you need a job (confusing, eh?). Luckily, co-op provides you with that much needed background so you can hit the ground running when you get out into the “real world”. It shows employers that you have something to bring to the organization because of your valuable experience working in a professional environment as well as the new skills and knowledge that you’ve gained.

Other advantages of co-op include learning how to make the most impressive resume and cover letter possible, putting your textbook and lecture knowledge to use and finding out if your program is truly right for you.

The Cons

As great as co-op is, there are some hurdles you need to go through to get to where you want to be. Before getting a placement, you actually need to get an interview. To get an interview, you need to blow your potential employers  away with your spectacular resume and cover letter. But, to have those kinds of documents requires some training. Universities offer a number of workshops on job search strategies and the great thing about them is that they’re not all limited to co-op students. They’ll teach you how to create unique resumes and cover letters, how to prepare for interviews and how to look for the right jobs. If your school has none of these courses, the internet is also a great resource. There are plenty of websites such as LiveCareer and Resume Check that check your documents and give you tips on how to improve. And let’s not forget how invaluable peer review is—just ask a parent or one of your friends! Once you have these skills mastered, you need to apply. And apply. And keep applying. It’s a long process.

Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom

Rejection is a huge part of co-op, unless you’re extremely lucky in landing a job on your first try… I can definitely speak to this aspect. I applied to about 20 jobs and landed 2 interviews. Now that may not seem as tough as applying for 50 jobs and getting only 1 response, which is what a friend of mine is currently going through. Even with more experience, I expect there will be disappointment along the way. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually get a work-term. No matter how many applications you’ve done and how many times you were let down (and even cried—it’s okay, I can relate), it is possible to get a placement.

Let’s not forget about interviews, which present a whole other wave of anxiety. It’s normal to feel anxious, nervous and excited all at the same time. A lot of practice is needed before each interview and it’s no joke. You need to be able to talk about your experiences confidently and find a way to relate it to the job description with ease. Some ways to prepare would be practicing your answers to questions you’ve looked up online, doing mock interviews and watching interviews on YouTube to see how others would respond. Over time you’ll be able to take control of those interviews and show them what you’re really made of.

Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom

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Once you’ve secured a work-term, other things come into play. This may be having to schedule courses during your study periods around your work-terms, missing out on events with your friends and having to adjust to a completely new setting. Some things I didn’t think I would find challenging would definitely be driving, working with different people and missing school. I can’t imagine how people survive spending so much time trying to get from one place to another. Just one hour stuck in traffic is enough for me. Speaking of people, as I mentioned before that I have not had much experience, there are still so many types of people that I have yet to meet and work with. I find this to be exciting and at the same time, scary. Although each challenge presents its own difficulties, I find the most surprising obstacle to be my absence from school. It’s a weird feeling to be able to talk to your friends and see them (through social media, of course) but not actually be with them and do whatever they’re doing. These challenges may not be going away anytime soon, but I sure am learning from them every single day.

So, you see, although the process of getting a work-term requires a little more work and perseverance than you may have bargained for, you’ll gain a lot more knowledge, relationships and — yes! — even money in the long run. All of your hard work will pay off and you’ll be so glad that you did this program.

Author

Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom
Co-op student @UTSC. Probably thinking about pizza.